"Being a mom added balance to their lives,"
Grzelakowski says. "It enabled them to put their work in perspective;
it made them better human beings. They were no less driven
after becoming moms, but they were much better able to channel
their drive into productive effort."
The women profiled in Mother Leads Best
were already on the fast track to leadership well before they
became mothers. Tough, confident and assertive, most had reached
the senior executive level before having kids.
But to reach the very top, leaders paradoxically
must soften certain aspects of the style that served them
so well on the way up, Grzelakowski contends. Workaholism,
perfectionism and competitiveness can undermine the trust
leaders need to inspire employees. Great leadership often
requires empathy and a lack of ego - traits motherhood develops
"The change from being ambitious to thinking
about others really comes back to enhance your work life,"
Grzelakowski says. "You start caring about other people more
than you care about yourself. That is so important to leadership,
and having children forces women to do this."
That was the case for Ellen Kullman '83, group
vice president of DuPont Safety and Protection Group and a
mother of three. One of the 50 women profiled in the book,
Kullman says she is a "much different" leader now than before
she had children.
At the time her first child was born in 1990,
Kullman was a director at DuPont, responsible for 800 employees
and several hundred million dollars in revenue. She had developed
a direct style of management that was more focused on getting
the job done than building a team.
"Although I was pretty inclusive, if there
was a disagreement, I would make the decision the way I thought
best," Kullman recalls. "I didn't always take the time to
see the issue from other people's perspectives. Luckily, my
kids got my attention on this issue. It made me put myself
in others' shoes. While I do not always alter my beliefs,
I did alter my behavior. Now, I think about disagreements,
understand them, and then make clear choices."
Today Kullman leads a team of five vice presidents
and general managers. "They are very independent, strong-willed,
accomplished people," she says. "Quite frankly, they often
do things in a different way than I would do. My job is to
let them go and to coach them so they are successful. Just
like kids, we all have to learn. Leaders have to give their
team members some rope and see what they do with it."
Letting go, gaining more
An enhanced ability to delegate is common
among mother-leaders, according to Grzelakowski.
"These women let go of so much when they had
children: the need to control everything, to overachieve,
to be a perfectionist," Grzelakowski says. "The chaos has
actually been good for them. They begin to realize, 'I'm handling
all this, and I'm good at it.' They wind up being more in
control of themselves, while letting go of controlling everyone
Marla Gottschalk '93, president and COO of
The Pampered Chef and another subject in Grzelakowski's book,
agrees. Before she had her two children, now 8 and 10, Gottschalk
says she had a single-minded devotion to her career.
"I didn't hesitate to stay at the office until
8 or 9 p.m. because I felt this need to be fully in control
of every aspect of my work," she says. "My children really
changed things. When there's more going on, you see the need
to prioritize. It makes you say, 'I see 10 balls in the air
and five of them are not important. I'm going to focus on
the five that are really going to make a difference and give
the remaining five to the people working for me.'
"Nine times out of 10, they will do a better
job of handling them than you will."
Grzelakowski's premise that "mother leads
best" grew out of her experiences as a high-achieving woman
in the male-dominated tech industry. At 30, she was one of
AT&T's youngest senior managers and pregnant with her first
child. She had also earned the nickname "Ayatollah" from her
co-workers for her hard-charging style.
In the months and years after she returned
from maternity leave, however, Grzelakowski found herself
displaying new leadership traits. "I began to view my teams
as extended family and, like the mother I was, tried to protect
them at all costs," she says. "This didn't just mean helping
them keep their jobs, but helping them learn and grow and
build their self-esteem."
Grzelakowski's teams thrived under her maternal
leadership style. She, in turn, was rewarded with increased
professional stature. "AT&T even asked me to train the other
executives on the team how to care," she says.
She went on to hold senior executive positions
at Motorola and Dell and ran several multi-billion-dollar
businesses while raising her two sons. She later launched
a CEO retreat program, WISDOMQUEST, to provide CEOs with a
week of quiet and reflection.
During one of these retreats, Grzelakowski
began to observe how many of the most skillful leaders were
also mothers. As she explored the impact one role had on the
other, she found her ideas corroborated by many top corporate
men and women. "What started out as a hunch turned out to
be the case for everyone I spoke to," she says.
Grzelakowski believes corporations have yet
to fully tap the talents of women with maternal leadership
skills. She urges companies to support long-term maternity
leaves for women, noting that many women feel torn between
their careers and their families immediately after their children
are born. But by accommodating women's need for increased
flexibility during the early child-rearing years, companies
can earn their loyalty and reap the benefits of their enhanced
management skills upon their return.
Parenthood "is a leadership course they are
sending people on," Grzelakowski says. "These are going to
be your high performers when they come back."